Pyjama Game

by Jinryu

Reading Agent_Eric (on xanga) is always fun in that sense, because he’s one of the few people on xanga who is training in the martial arts actively who writes about it. I’ve always missed being involved in martial arts– any of it. But ever since Numac shut down, there just hasn’t been much opportunity, time or money for me to train.

This morning, along with my textbooks, I loaded up my taekwondo pants in the saddlebags of my bike. The plan: check out the UNSW Kickboxing club.

Originally, when I came to Sydney, I was pretty stoked at the concept of finally being able to take Judo. UNSW has one of the most famous judo gyms in all of Sydney, with a number of state champions, and apparently an Olympian or two for good measure among the instructors’ rosters. Alas, it wasn’t to be– aside from the facts that the times for the club are totally wrong for my schedule, the program is simply too expensive.

I must admit that I didn’t think much of the idea of the Kickboxing Club at first, but it turns out to be a good bunch of enthusiasts. There’s a range of fighters there from beginners to some pretty advanced people there… and more interestingly, there’s a lot of different physiologies going on. There’s short, tall, thin, stocky, lean, and built– that makes for some interesting potential I think.

Getting through the workout was insanely difficult. I don’t think the workout itself was actually that hard, it’s just that I don’t have the physiology for it anymore. All I’ve been doing for the past few years is cycling– and while that gets good endurance in my legs for a pedalling motion, it doesn’t exactly translate to anything useful in a fighting situation. Commuter cycling also isn’t all that great for cardio. I mean, I guess I’m in better shape than the average person, but the whole point of commuting by bike is to do so with as little effort as possible– it means timing lights, using your momentum just right, using as little brakes as possible, drafting with busses… you’re trying to work less not more.

As a result, I was out of breath and cramping through most of the kickboxing drills. It was, of course, dissapointing that not only had my fitness dropped so much, but also that my body was incapable of using proper technique as a result. It makes sense though– without the proper physical foundations, at my level, one can’t really expect technique to be able to hold together without the physique to keep it all together. I’ve never been a very good technical fighter to begin with, I’ve always been more analytical and strategic– more of a Shikamaru than a Rock Lee, if you want to put it that way.

There was one thing that came back all too quickly– the recognition of pain. It’s a strange sensation, really– to have your lungs on fire, to be forcing your diaphragm to obey. It’s a feeling that you never forget. Despite that it means that you’ve managed to push yourself thus far, it also laughs at you, and wonders nonchalantly if that’s all you’ve got.

To my surprise, it turns out that they also have a few grapplers there. It’s been a long time since I did any stand-up fighting, but it’s been even longer since I did any ground fighting. I didn’t have a cup protector with me, but as an old habit, I did bring a long sleeved rashguard, and I had my mouth guard. Not sure how much of a rumble I expected when I was packing earlier in the morning, but it worked out well, didn’t it?

I got to roll for perhaps 5 or 6 minutes (it’s always hard to tell when on the ground) with the club’s local grappler– someone who had a fair amount of formal training. I was mostly worried about being so exhausted. However, things worked out pretty well for me. My preventative measures were really rusty, so he managed to get me in a triangle choke and an arm bar a handful of times– but thankfully, instincts kicked in and I managed to escape each time.

I can’t tell you how good it felt.

I think part of it is that a lot of the time when I’m at school, I feel kind of old. I’m 28 years old now, going on 29. The majority of the people I’m in class with, even as postgraduate law students, are 5 or 6 years younger than me. The kickboxing club is the same, and some of those people are undergrads.

Sometimes when I’m in class I feel annoyed at the whole uphill battle of it all. I feel that being an international in Australia is difficult because I don’t know where anything is. Sometimes I don’t understand peoples’ accents if they talk too quickly, even though it’s been two months. Sometimes, people raise issues in class that they just know about because they’re immersed in the Australian news, and they know it’s history.

Sometimes, they just think faster than I do or contextualize things just like that, and come up with clever arguments.

Although I think I make up for it in worldly and professional experience, it is a sad fact that sometimes, I feel like I’m old for this crowd. That’s okay with me, I guess– I’m still going to do it. I’m still going to give it all.

But it’s another thing to be going to a kickboxing class and training alongside people who have the kind of stamina I did when I was 5 years younger. Unlike law school, I know this world– and I know how much of it I’ve lost, and how much of it I’ve missed. It’s also another thing to see that world in the eyes of others, as they do what I used to do and love so much.

But I do see the difference between us. I hear whining and bitching around the room by people who lack the resolve, or I see the flaws in the technique that, if we were sparring, I’d draw out and exploit every now and then. Despite that I’m on the side, gasping for air– this is a world I know, and it’s one that still calls to me. It calls to me in a way that humbles me, while giving me strength in the fact that here, I’ve found a little community of “real” people. And comparing myself to them, I feel a little more real, I guess? I guess I can see how in their youth, they’ve got a few things to learn that I’m already past…

It’s hard to describe. I’m by no means a master of anything, or anywhere close– it’s just that there’s still a development of character and fighting spirit, and no matter how good your technique or physique is, that takes experience to develop.

I think my fighting spirit has been locked up for a long time.

I dunno– it’s been a long time since I’ve done any training, but it’s amazing how, even if my body is slow to get back into it, my brain just pulled all the data and theory right back out.

When I was rolling with the grappler, I definately felt outclassed– his transitions, his sense of position, they were all much better than mine. How I got the upper hand I think was because I was more efficient, I displayed more spirit, and I think I was more strategic.

I knew that he had a lot of stamina over mine, so my tactic was to tire him out. Sometimes that meant letting him get a near complete lock on me while I positioned my escape, and then just dragging it out. A lot of the time, it meant letting him get an incomplete triangle or arm bar, and then using that tie up to stack him.

Stacking means you pile the person backwards on his upper back, and you basically try to fold their legs backwards on them. Basically, stack the person upside down, like a yoga plow, then put all your weight on squishing this shape. Though you can’t really ‘win’ by stacking, the position is uncomfortable and makes it pretty hard to breathe if it’s done right. And in other situations where I could have secured a secure offensive position, I instead opted for “knee-on-chest.” Basically, when someone’s on their back, you try and kneel on their chest (even better if you can get on their solar plexus) and hang on as long as you can as if it was your last rodeo. The longer you can, the better– again, it’s not a move that will win you a fight because it doesn’t hurt enough usually to enduce a tap out, but, it does make it hard to breathe– it drains stamina. Eventually when I’d worked him down, I baited him, countered his attack through a position reversal, got his arm, and applied the kimura. It was pretty easy once he was tired. I took quite a few gambles, but it worked in the end.

It felt good.

The guy I was against was pretty nice, and I bear no animosity against him. In fact we’ll be rolling a lot, I imagine, in the weeks to come. I look forward to it. If I have enough space, I might bring my judogi with me so that we can go with gis– that’d be interesting.

[CM] told me when I got home later that it sounded like I had a great time. Well, it wasn’t without it’s costs– I was so exhausted about the whole situation afterwards. Actually, while I was doing the bike ride home from school, I flew off my bike… it was raining, and I tried to turn up a curb at a not-perpendicular-enough angle. In the rain, the puddle concealed that the curb was a few inches high, so my wheel was rejected and I flew to the side.

Being the badass that I was, I managed to roll with my fall, so I incurred no damage except a scratch on the side of my steering bar. But it wouldn’t have happened if I had enough strength in my arms to hop the front wheel over the curb in the first place, which is what I normally do. I was so tired from the club that I was having a bit of trouble keeping my grip on the brakes. When I got home later, I couldn’t even take the cap off of a juice bottle.

I’m glad I found this club, and it’s likely that there are many stories to be had from this experience. It’s kind of restored my confidence in myself, to be honest.

I know that it sounds like quite the dream to be studying something you enjoy. And make no mistake, I do enjoy it. But do still feel a build-up inside of me some sort of negative-force. Anything can trigger a few points added to this total. Sometimes, it’s when someone in class bullshits their way despite the fact that they didn’t read the text. Sometimes, it’s the fact that as an international student, I am not entitled to concessions for public transport. Sometimes, it’s just some asshole drivers, or worse, asshole bikers during my commute. Sometimes I just feel pissed that despite going through an initiative to start a case brief wiki for a few of my classmates to collaborate on, they’re not putting in as much as they’re getting from me. I dunno. There are lots of reasons to be angry: I’m sure everyones’ lives are like that. None the least of which is that I feel like what comes naturally to the new generation of students isn’t so easy for me.

But the simple logic of of the marital arts makes sense to me, and as always, gives me insight into the rest of the way I deal with my life. Sure, I’m getting older. That’s natural. I was never meant to be young forever. But frankly… I’m not even 30 yet. What the fuck am I bitching about? There are plenty of things that get better with age. There are plenty of things that I’m better at now than I was 5 years ago, and though I’ve got a lot in my head, I think, frankly, that having been where I’ve been, I’m better at learning than a lot of people.

And even all that… fuck that. Why do I even care about how I stand against other people? If tonight prooves anything, it’s that being me is about investing in myself. Every now and then, I cash in, and I get to reap the rewards. And then I’m reminded that I’m doing okay.